This is the third column is a series I have written in response to a Conference Board Study that identified human capital as the biggest challenges for CEOs in 2014. The study went on to detail three parts to human capital management:  development, retention and engagement. This column will focus on engagement, what it is, and how you can increase it.

I said in the first column in this series that W.A. Kahn, a professor of organizational behavior, has defined engagement as “… the extent to which a person is psychologically present in work roles.” Said another way, engagement is the degree to which an employee will demonstrate discretionary effort in a situation if given a choice. In any organization, it is fairly typical for a third of the workforce to be engaged, another third of the workforce to be neither engaged nor disengaged, and the other third to be disengaged. If you could get the two thirds of the organization that is either neutral or disengaged to become engaged, the productivity gains would be huge.

As part of my business, we create engagement surveys. We recently completed a survey for My Employees, a company in Castle Hayne. The survey includes five dimensions:

  1. Recognition
  2. Role clarity
  3. Career opportunities
  4. Supervisory support
  5. Ability to take initiative

A company that wants to positively impact its engagement with employees should conduct a survey first. The purpose of the survey is to give the company a baseline of its strengths and areas for improvement. You could just ask closed-ended question with a scale attached. (For example, you could ask, “On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being low and 5 being high, how clear are you on your duties and responsibilities?”) That gives you quantitative information. I prefer to also use some open-ended questions to get qualitative information. (For example, “What things do you most like about working for this organization?”) Although you’ll get a lot of different answers, they can be grouped into different categories. Sometimes you will get a number of people mentioning the same issue. That would be an indication that it is important.

Now that you have collected this information through the survey about the current state of your organization as it relates to engagement, what next? You must do something. The worst thing you can do is to ask people how things are going and then not respond. If you are on the fence about responding, don’t do the survey. You will make things worse by not responding. 

Your next step is to provide feedback. This can be in written form, in small groups, large groups or a combination. The thing you are trying to accomplish here is to thank people for completing the survey and to let employees know that they were heard. Do not get into defending the company’s position on any of the data you received. It is not the right place to do so, and it will not go over well. 

If you are serious about improving engagement, you need to take action by identifying three to five groups and asking them to address the most important areas coming out of the survey. Examples could be a Reward and Recognition Group, a Career Opportunities Group and a Supervisory Support Group. The groups shouldn’t be larger than 10 to 15 people. People should volunteer to participate because they are passionate about this area and making it better. 

Each group should be given a charter and parameters. You know how things are (you got that from the survey). For example, with the Rewards and Recognition Group, its objective is to advise the company on introducing different rewards and recognitions that people will see as engaging. As a CEO or HR manager, don’t make promises other than to listen to the group and to ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand its ideas. 

In most cases, groups come up with some suggestion that can be acted upon. If the company can keep using a group as a resource through implementing the group’s solution, the group will see this as engaging. Don’t forget to communicate these actions to the larger employee population. You can’t assume that employees will know this effort is underway unless you tell them. 

Lastly, you should resurvey employees after nine to 12 months. This is one of the best ways to know whether your work to improve engagement is taking hold. In summation, engagement is not some abstract concept – it can be measured and it can be changed. It takes patience, hard work and commitment to the long term. Just think of the kinds of things your organization could accomplish if the two-thirds of the employees who were not engaged became engaged?

EASI·Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI Consult’s specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, emailContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.